As Luke Weckell and members of the University of Cincinnati football team sat down for their share of the virtual media day of the American Athletic Conference on Thursday, the Bearkats demonstrated the same confidence that drove them to win the conference’s last two championships.
But members of the media at the conference did not buy that.
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Although Cincinnati received the most votes (10) from 11 AAC programmes, the Bearcats were selected to take second place behind their soon-to-be fellow Big 12 Conference member in Houston in a pre-season AAC media poll released Thursday morning.
Houston is expected to be the 2022 AAC champion even though the Bearcats defeated the Cougars in a conference title match last season on their way to earning a spot in the College Football Playoff.
“Of course this is fuel for the fire,” Jabari Taylor said. “I mean, we don’t really pay attention to things like that. But whatever fuel we can get, we’re going to consume it.”
Fickell, the three-time AAC Coach of the Year (2018, 20 and 21), said he was informed of the survey before he sat down for his team’s media day session. Fickell said he would have picked Houston (12-2, 8-0 AAC last season) to finish first as well. But he also said he doesn’t put much stock in pre-season polls.
“We have one goal and a set of goals every year. They’re not going to change based on what the polls are going to be,” said Fickell, who is entering his sixth season at the helm of the UCLA program. “But we’ll use it. We kind of like playing from that position a little bit more. But I don’t think it’s something we’re going to talk about, disrespect or anything like that. It’s just the reality.
“I think our guys have gone far enough, and we have enough leaders and older guys who understand the realities behind all this stuff. It obviously can be motivating, and for me it definitely is.”
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Fickell and the Bearcats start fall camp on Wednesday needing to replace more than 30 seniors from last year’s 13-1 (8-0 AAC) team and nine players selected in the 2022 NFL Draft. One such player is quarterback Desmond Ryder, who started For four years, he is Offensive Player of the Year for 2020 and 2021.
“Whatever you have to say about Desmond Ryder, he’s clearly a fantastic quarterback and he’s been phenomenal to us,” Feckle said of Ryder, who was a third-round pick for the Atlanta Falcons in April. “I think the nice thing is that he will become a better midfielder in the NFL, and that’s not just because of the game he’s played or the number of games he’s played, but because he’s a constant competitor. He’s always striving to get better. And I think his future is really bright. He’s in a position. Great now, and when any guy is put in a position where he can compete, I think that makes him so much better.”
Spectrum quarterback Evan Prater and senior quarterback Ben Bryant are expected to battle through fall camp for a chance to replace Ryder as the Bearcats starters when they open the season on September 3 in Arkansas (3:30 p.m. on ESPN).
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Fickell said he will do everything in his power over the next five weeks to put both Pratter and Bryant in the best position to succeed.
“It’s going to be as much a fight as it can be,” said Fickl. “You can’t go live. You can’t show your midfielder live. It’s not something you do now. But knowing that we have five players back up front up front and a defensive line that will be the anchors what we do, we’ll have a chance to really challenge the rest. Challenge the midfielders. “Challenge the back end of our defence, because there are a lot of new players. It’s not that it’s going to be any different, but I think we can try to write it down and put these guys in some positions where we hope we can do a better job of really assessing them and what they can do for the whole team.” .
It doesn’t matter to him or the team that wins the primary task, said Tre Tucker, chief wide receiver and a pioneer in capturing Cincinnati’s return passes from last season (34 passes, 426 yards and two touchdowns).
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“Evan Prater and Ben Bryant are both great people, and they both have great, fantastic leadership,” he said. “So no matter who the initiator is, we’ll be in good hands. I’m a receiver, so the best thing for us is whoever’s out there, we make it look good.”